October 1997, Volume 3, Number 4
Labor Law Enforcement
The US Employment Service in 1977 established a system of
Monitor Advocates for Migrant Seasonal Farmworkers to ensure that
migrant and seasonal farm workers had equal access to Employment
Services, the so-called Richey court settlement of a lawsuit, NAACP v
Brennan. An April 17, 1996 report on the of Monitor Advocate system
found that most Monitor Advocates do not have the resources or
training to effectively assist farm workers.
The Harry Singh & Sons farm of
Oceanside, recipient of the DOL western regional Agricultural
Employer of the Year award in 1996 for its $2.5 million construction
in 1990 of barracks housing for 325 farm workers, settled state
charges for $172,498 in January 1997 that it failed to pay overtime
to farm workers in 1993. Singh & Sons farms 700 acres in the San
Luis Rey River valley. DOL's citation said that Singhs are "employers
who take care of their employees, rather than take from their
About 70 percent of the farm workers in
northern San Diego country are believed to be Mixtecos and Zapotecos
from Oaxaca. In 1993, the largest migrant camp in San Diego county
was Rancho Los Diablos in McGonigle Canyon near Rancho
DeCoster Eggs. DeCoster Eggs in
Turner, Maine settled $3.8 million in fines levied by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration for $2 million, and in
August 1997 announced that it would split up into six companies, each
owned by their current managers. Under the plan, DeCoster would own
the chickens and lease them to the new companies and workers would
begin paying $450 a month for housing.
Maine approved a law in 1997 that gives
workers on egg farms with more than 500,000 laying hens and 100
workers the right to form a union. DeCoster Eggs has had a stormy
relationship with federal enforcement agencies:
June 1988: DeCoster is fined $46,250 for
184 workplace violations, including knowingly hiring illegal
May 1992: DeCoster is charged with
violating the Maine Civil Rights Act by preventing outside officials
from contacting Hispanic migrant workers living in DeCoster-owned
February 1994: A group of migrant workers
sues DeCoster, alleging their former employer failed to pay overtime
wages; they routinely worked more than 40 hours per week.
July 26, 1994: Maine's Catholic diocese
accuses DeCoster of depriving workers of their religious
February 24, 1996: An inspection by the
Maine Fire Marshal's Office finds 300 safety violations in 44
trailers and bunkhouses at DeCoster Egg Farms.
July 12, 1996: US Labor Department fines
DeCoster $ 3.6 million after an extensive investigation leads Labor
Secretary Robert Reich to assert that conditions at DeCoster are "as
dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have ever seen." Four
supermarket chains stop purchasing DeCoster eggs.
August 29, 1996: DeCoster hires advisers
to implement changes in labor practices.
November 8, 1996: The advisors quit
DeCoster, saying DeCoster did not move fast enough or far enough to
clean up the problems.
November 23, 1996: Federal prosecutors
decide to bring civil rather than criminal charges against Jack
DeCoster for violations of wage laws and false statements during a
six-month inspection of his egg farm.
May 19, 1997: DeCoster signs a sweeping
settlement of federal charges that it violated health and safety
regulations. The company agrees to pay a $ 2 million fine and accept
long-term oversight of conditions at the Turner farm.
June 18, 1997: DeCoster pays the first
installment - $ 750,000 - on the $ 2 million fine.
August 27, 1997: Decoster discloses that
it plans to split its business into seven smaller companies and sell
some of the new divisions to former farm managers; just weeks before
a new state law allows workers to unionize on large farms like
DeCoster's and receive overtime pay.
California. Jose Millan was named
California labor commissioner on July 22, 1997, making him the first
Latino to hold the post in 50 years. Millan said he hopes to expand
the Targeted Industries Partnership Program, or TIPP, begun in 1993.
Millan, with 10 years experience, quit the Department of Industrial
Relations in August 1996. The labor commissioner has 300 employees to
enforce labor laws in the state.
Millan said that he may shift some of the
TIPP resources now used in agriculture to another, still-undetermined
industry; 24 inspectors have been added to the labor commissioner's
Los Angeles office to step up monitoring of the garment industry.
Since 1993, TIPP has inspected 4,400 agricultural and garment work
places, and assessed $20 million in penalties against
The TIPP program inspected two small farms
with 70 acres of specialty crops, such as the salad-green arugula, in
southern Escondido on August 1, 1997, and discovered some of the
worst conditions found in agriculture so far, including wages as low
as $1.80 per hour, no drinking water and housing that consisted of
filthy, rat- and weasel-infested plywood shacks for seven workers.
Both employers paid their workers in cash, and did not provide
workers compensation insurance; they were assessed $12,500 in fines,
including failure to provide workers compensation, $1,000 per worker
fines; child labor violations, $500; and paying workers in cash,
$1,000 to $3,000 fines.
In New York, a new law increases penalties
on employers who hire migrants and other low-skilled laborers but
refuse to pay them all or part of their wages; employers who fail to
pay wages could be required to pay the wages owed, plus a fine of 200
percent of back wages, up from a fine of 25 percent of past due
Raymond Hernandez, "Tougher Penalties for
Employers Who Cheat on Pay," New York Times, September 19, 1997.
Diane Lindquist, "Two farms shut down in raid; low wages, filthy
shacks cited," San Diego Union Tribune, August 2, 1997. Stuart
Silverstein, "Regulator Is Named Labor Chief of Calif," Los Angles
Times, July 23, 1997.